Transitions and Lughnasadh

Believe it or not, Lughnasadh is almost here.

(I can’t believe it.)

August 1st is less than a week away. First harvest, harvest of the corn (grain). Which, appropriately enough, our only two ears of corn might be ready by then!

Of course, for those less agriculturally inclined, the reflections of the season usually center around what’s metaphorically/spiritually ready to harvest and what needs a bit longer, separating the what from the chaff and the transition from summer into autumn. It can seem a bit crazy, especially in Central Texas, that August 1st can celebrate the descent into autumn. But every year I think it’s crazy, and every year August 1st rolls around, and it feels right. The shadows begin stretching over the lawn just a little bit earlier; we take out the summer tomatoes and plant the fall crop; I can berry jam and apple butter.

Now that I work in a winery I know that August 1st is right in the middle of the grape harvest [for Central Texas, not so in other places]. The whites have already come in, and in quick succession the Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat will be hand-picked, dumped into tubs, shoveled into the destemmer-crusher, piped into then the press, then pumped into tanks to begin fermentation.

No matter how hot it still is, how far away the cooler weather may be–it is harvest.

In my own life, it’s a time of transition. I’ve gone back to work. C had her first day of daycare today (yes, I cried, a lot.) Like I mentioned, the garden is in part dying off and in part being replanted.

And I’ve decided that, by Samhain, my house is going to be a home.

See, we’ve lived in our house for 2.5 years and it’s still..blank. The walls are empty. The front yard is a mess because of previous poor landscape design. Everything looks temporary, transitional. I suppose it’s because once we moved in we had a baby, and then we thought J was going to lose his job and we’d have to move, and then, and then, and then.

But I’m done with and then. Could life change on a dime and we find ourselves packing boxes to move to Place X? Sure. But I’m sick of walking into my house and feeling like it’s just a pit stop. I want the beige walls to be another color, there to be family pictures and artwork, grown-up furniture instead of college/newlywed furniture, and for the front yard to look decent. For people to walk in and feel the energy of a blessed home. You just can’t have that if there’s a little bit of chaos or emptiness wherever you look.

So I’ve given myself (and by extension J, haha!) the deadline of Samhain. The entire season of harvest to tuck into working on the lawn and the house. By October 31st I want our (largely non-existent) trick-or-treaters to walk up a clean path, surrounded by a seasonal front-yard and peer into a homey foyer. Where the energy of the house clearly says, we’re a family that loves each other, and we welcome you to our home.

Appropriate, I think, for a season I’ve always thought of as ‘Harvest Home’.

What are your thoughts about Lughnasadh? If it’s in your tradition, do you connect to it?

Fears are Dumb.

So, my previous post was about an award that was shared with me. When I saw that Thalassa had put that in my comments I grinned! I smiled! Someone reads my blog and likes it! It was so gratifying to receive it, and kind of her to share it with me.

The second step was trying to put together a post in which I shared the award with 7 others. I hemmed and hawed. Clicked on several blogs that I read often. Thought about how much I loved their blog, but how…man, I’d have to talk to them, right? Connect with them. Let them know that I hold their blogs and writings in esteem. I put it on the back-burner for a few days because…well…I was afraid. Afraid of what? Telling people I liked them? Letting them know that I admire their work? Beginning, perhaps, a relationship with the when I usually lurk in comfortable anonymity?

How silly. How human [in this age].

And this is why I’m still a solitary practitioner, let’s be honest. It’s not some high-minded philosophy about why solitary craft is better, it’s because I’m afraid of connection, in particular, with the pagan community. It’s not like the potential isn’t there–it’s everywhere, on the Internet, at Ancient Mysteries (our metaphysical store), on Meetup.com.

Why? I don’t know. It’s dumb. And it’s keeping me alone for Sabbats and etc., when I want to be with people who believe like I do, and have a good time, and talk, and share life with them.

Anyway, just something to think about on a Tuesday afternoon (during tea!). Why fear being…nice…to people? And maybe have them being nice in return?

I received an award!

Yay! The lovely Thalassa over at Musings of a Kitchen Witch tagged me for a blog award! I’ve actually never done one of these before…so, here goes.

The Award:

 

 

 

 

 

The “Rules”:

The “rules” of the award are as follows:

1.  Display the award certificate on your website.
2.  Announce your win with a post and include a link to whoever presented your award.
3.  Present 7 awards to deserving bloggers.  Create a post linking to them and drop them a comment to tip them off. [My list is light…but, I didn’t want to pad it! These are blogs that I read often and really enjoy.]
4.  Post 7 interesting facts about yourself.

Award Recipients:

Pagan Princesses

Hearthwitch Cottage

The Deepest Well

The Whimsical Cottage

Pixiecraft

The Domestic Pagan

These are all Pagan blogs that I love. They’re inspiring and thought-provoking, and I love to read them! I’m a lurker at most of them, so…this might be a bit surprising when I let them know…

Seven Facts About Me:

  1. I am a stereotypical redhead. Freckled, ruddy, stubborn and short of temper.
  2. I work at a winery. I love it.
  3. I don’t think I could be any more of a political mish-mash. I would describe myself as part of the social liberal, fiscal moderate, please-just-behave-yourself-and-be-kind party.
  4. When I drink wine, I talk. When I drink beer, I get happy. When I drink liquor, I pass out.
  5. My favorite books are the Oultander series, and when I heard last week that it’s in development to be a TV show I squealed, out-loud, and woke C from her nap. And I did not care.
  6. My first Otherworld experience was when I was 14-ish. I remember the details clearly, and it still gives me tingles to think about it.
  7. When I watch any version of Pride and Prejudice, I giggle, squeal, blush and basically curl up into a little ball of cashmere pink femininity until it’s over. Then I heave a dramatic sigh, and my husband laughs at me.

Honoring the Ancestors through Food, Part Two

Third question–Theoretical Application

[Disclaimer #1 before the next section:  While I think some traditional ways are preferential to modern ones, I also think that inspiration from traditional ways is more valuable than trying to emulate them wholesale.]

[Disclaimer #2: Yes. I know. These are broad generalizations. “Traditional culture” can mean anything from the milk-and-blood eating Masaai to the largely-meat Inuit to nearly-vegetarian-except-for-bugs. There are similarities though, and restrictions that would have been temporally based. For example, all livestock/grazing animals/game back in the day would have been grass-fed–no CAFOs in the Mesolithic.]

But using food to connect–what does that mean, in particular? I can think of several things:

1. That food be grown and tended traditionally. Pastured-based dairy, poultry and beef has been shown to be higher in CLA, vitamin K2 and other nutrients that our bodies need. Also, land needs animals (there, I said it), especially prairie and grasslands. I’m not going to make outlandish claims about the superior health value of organic produce, as I think those claims are still contested, but growing produce traditionally is low-impact, creative and when done best can be restorative to the soil and surrounding natural systems. Having a part in these processes connects us to the past and to the future, much like picking up your Granny’s knitting needles to make a baby blanket.

2. Eating traditional ingredients. Many pre-industrial diets are pretty healthy, especially with the addition of fresh meat. Think about it: soured oats and an egg for breakfast, a ploughman’s platter of meat, cheese, greens, chutney for lunch, then for dinner is a stew. Emphasizing fresh vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, soured grains and reducing white sugar and flour.  Also, these cultures ate all parts of the meat and used the bones for broth as well–important in traditional cuisine and full of vitamins A and D, as well as minerals and gelatin. Making sure dairy sources are fatty and greens are cooked with fat is also important.

There are some traditional ingredients that are controversial, to say the least. I’m thinking particular about raw milk. Raw milk is what any culture who drank milk drank before the pasteurization process was invented. In modern times, if you haven’t heard, some groups claim that the health benefits of grass-fed raw milk outweigh the risk of maybe consuming harmful bacteria. If you’re going to consume milk, they claim, you should only consume raw. Governmental agencies and other safety advocates say nonsense, if you’re going to consume milk, raw milk could kill you. I’m doing more research on this at the moment, so I don’t have a firm conclusion yet.

3. Preparing traditional dishes. Some of these are harmless enough, such as Colcannon. Who doesn’t love a huge pot of mashed up potatoes, leeks, kale, ham and scandalous amounts of butter? Soured oatmeal seems fine to me; I love fermented foods. Gotta love a big pot of stew, as well! Other dishes…well…I can’t say I’m raring to try oat-stuffed cod heads.

Conclusions

The Weston A. Price Foundation pioneered the traditional food-culture trail in the 1940s, and with the popularity of farmer’s markets, eating locally and the Paleo/Primal diets, traditional foods are coming back in vogue. Pagans as a whole have been on the tradiotionalist train since the beginning of the neo-Pagan movement in the ’40s and ’50s. I’m thinking in particular about the Patricia Campanelli who wrote The Wheel of the Year and Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions. So, not exactly groundbreaking territory. It really isn’t even a new idea for this blog, I’ve explored it in most food philosophy posts.

Still, I find the idea of ancestor work through food compelling. It has so many nuances. One could connect to ancestors of place by eating seasonal foods, and buying local meat, honey, alcohol and produce. Blood ancestry could be explored through growing cultural ingredients and using them in different recipes. Also, of course, since culture is fluid, one shouldn’t feel trapped in “I’m Scottish so I must eat kippers and bannocks”, and instead experiment with traditional (and non) ingredients, methods, etc. and see how they can be incorporated.

Personally, our family already does some of this, but I would like to incorporate some low-stress daily/weekly dishes and methods into our rotation. Tea, while more modern, is one aspect of this. I’m thinking about starting a soured porridge pot and a sourdough starter. I’m also tentatively exploring raw milk, more for the culturing possibilities (yogurt, cheese, clotted cream) than for drinking. We’ll see.

Much to my husband’s dismay, we’re also now taking regular spoonfuls of ghee and Cod Liver Oil. At least it’s not it’s not fermented.

(Yet.)

Honoring the Ancestors through Food, Part One

I’ve always been curious about how our ancestors ate. I love the whole realm of food and beverage, from anthropology down to history. One of my favorite aspects of being in the wine business is that it is a traditional industry steeped (fermented?) in history and culture.

So I began pondering: How would eating traditionally connect me to the ancestors? Not just my temporally near ones, but what about my deep, genetic ancestors?  I honor the ancestors in my daily prayers, but it feels important to cultivate that connection in other ways.

My favorite aspect of all the holidays and Sabbats is definitely the food. I make butter on Imbolc, Colcannon on Samhain, soda bread for the Vernal Equinox. Not to mention the feasts of Yule, Christmas and Thanksgiving. So, if I like that connection so much, what about starting to extend it to daily life?

One of my favorite blogs, Hunt Gather Love, got me to thinking about food anthropology, and piqued my interest even more when she posted about a traditional Scots diet (basically, bleeding venison and kale).

So–first question–who are my ancestors? And where are they from?

Thanks to extensive genealogical research done by my maternal aunt, I know that my bloodline contains ancestors who arrived in America from France, Austria, Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. I also have one flaming genetic marker for Celtic ancestry: I’m a red-head (and freckled).

Question two–That’s a lot of different cuisines and regions.

Sure…well, kind of. And it’s not like I’m trying to be a purist here. Hello, I’m an American whose family has been here since the 1700s. I could also add in Scots-Appalachian food (redundant, perhaps?) and traditional Southern into the mix. But since I’m mostly referring to deep ancestry, I think those more modern distinctions are less important.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned from research into a traditional Scots diet:

Grains: barley, rye, oats.

Vegetables: kale, cabbage, Allium crops (garlic, shallots, leeks, onion), turnips,  sea vegetables, wild vegetables (nettles, watercress), marsh plants (sea beans).

Fruits: berries, apples

Dairy: cream, milk, butter, cheese, whey

Meats: fish (especially salmon and trout), shellfish, game meat (especially venison), lamb/mutton, eggs, sometimes beef.

Sugars: honey

A traditional Irish diet would have looked much the same. In researching the topic I found more references to milk products, ducks, geese and beef in the Irish diet–but that doesn’t mean that the Scots didn’t enjoy these foods as well.

A more continental European diet would include beans and legumes, more grains (wheat, though not much, and millet), and a more diverse set of vegetables and fruits.

Traditionally, grains would have (most of the time) been soaked or fermented, which makes them easier to digest and shortens the cooking time.  Think of soured porridge, sourdough, and soaked oats.

Something else to think about–after the hunter/gatherer period of history, fresh meat would have been the province of the nobility, except for feast days. Food of the lower classes would have been grains, dairy and vegetables, supplemented with blood sausages and the like. It’s interesting to note that because of the emphasis on dairy, some of the dietary practices were similar to the traditional diet of the African Masaai tribe (like mixing raw blood, raw milk and butter together).

[Part II will discuss Application and will have a list of my resources and the Wish List Cookbooks]

Slow Down Tea

I just ordered a teapot, strainer, book on afternoon tea recipes, and a pack of loose leaf Irish breakfast tea.

No, I’m not suffering a fit of Anglophilia.

(Though watching Sherlock, Misfits, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, the upcoming London Olympics, and all of this rain we’ve been getting might do that to a person.)

(Well, okay, mild Anglophilia.)

I’m trying to explore ritual in my life. For a while I thought that I didn’t have rituals, and therefore, my thought-life was becoming increasingly chaotic. I felt like I was whirling a bit out of control, letting things fly off into the ether and not being able to control it.

Ritual! I thought, that’s the answer.

Then I realized that I do have rituals–for better and for worse.

For instance, on the destructive side, I’m a secret eater. When I get stressed, angry or mad, I go and eat. Secretly. I drive to fast food restaurants and eat. Not binge, not anymore, but I eat stuff that I normally wouldn’t touch. I had a friend tell me that she used to do this with cigarettes. Just a little secret, but the whole process is cloaked in ritual. And if it’s not a certain place, a certain meal, eaten in a certain way…it just doesn’t feel the same.

On the creative side, I have a fairly consistent ritual of a daily Tarot card draw. I center, visualize roots drawing up nutrients into my feet, strengthening my legs, activating my chakras, and extended through to the sky and space above. Then I draw a card. It’s very centering, calming, grounding. I round it off with prayer and words of gratitude. Days that I do this–and it only takes ten minutes–are by far more productive, calm and happy.

I’ve been reflecting on the summer the past few days and what I want to accomplish before autumn is upon us. It’s the middle of July, but Lughnasadh is two weeks away. Mabon six weeks after that. The summer tomatoes are producing their last, and I’m about to put in the fall vegetables. In a few days I’ll start the seed flats of cole crops (!). I can scarcely believe it!

I realized that I’m craving more structure in my life. Since the spring I’ve been pretty lax about…everything. Which is fine. But now I want structure and routine. More–I want it to be so integrated that it becomes rhythm.

Where to start, though? In an ideal world I’d love to be the type of person who wakes up at dawn, practices yoga and meditates, has a tea ritual in the afternoon, a writing ritual during nap time, evening meditation before bed…I mean, that all sounds awesome. Not to mention religious and spiritual rituals such as prayer, devotions and other seasonal activities. I mean, whew. That’s a lot of ritual.

And with everything else that must be done in life? It’s just…not feasible.

Of course, none of it has to be super involved. It can be as simple as lighting a candle, drawing a card, reciting a brief mantra.

But I wanted something to set apart. So I decided to go back to the beginning–back to when I was a little girl and had a fascination with tea, tea pots, and all things Irish, English and floral Victorian.

(I was a romantic child, obviously!)

My mom still has all of my porcelain tea pots–a very floral collection, largely featuring chintz–and I don’t really want those in a house with my toddler. So I traded in the violets and roses for a sturdy stoneware blue. I have my Celtic knot porcelain tea cups, a package of loose leaf tea on the way, and a loaf of good sourdough perfect for toast.

The funny thing is that though I want more ritual, I also want to slow down. When I said ‘whirling’ above, I meant it–it’s been a busy, chaotic season in our life. I want this ritual to help slow. it. down. To create space to think, to observe, to relax, to collect myself. The beverage version of yoga.

So, from now until Lughnasadh I’ll be having tea, between 3 and 4, every day. With milk and sugar. Maybe cheese, toast or an egg, maybe a book or my journal. But possibly just me and a warm, sweet cup of tea.

In Memorium.

It’s been a spectacularly mild summer in Austin this year. We’ve had only four or five days of a 100+ degree weather, and a couple of rain showers even after the Summer Solstice. Last year, we had absolutely no rain from the Summer Solstice till late September, and we had already hit dozens of 100+ degree days.

So, today, when it was…check this out…eighty degrees, overcast and misty with a cool breeze on JULY F-ING FIRST!…I went for a jog. At noon-thirty.

The mind boggles.

However, our excellent and bewildering weather is besides the point. As I jogged into the little watershed area that I love I passed by Niana, the water spirit, gave a silent salute and jogged on by. I hit the turnaround point and made my way to the bank of the creek to say some prayers.

As I prayed I noticed that my mind was trying to make sense of something outside of its grid. It was a weird sensation, to say the least, but finally the ‘something’s not right’ turned into ‘turn your head to the left, moron’.

At first my mind didn’t compute what I was seeing. It didn’t have a grid for the field full of tree-stump sized pits, oak mulch and razed earth. After several false starts my mind finally turned over, and I got it.

This…beautiful, sacred piece of land…had been completely razed. From the where the creek bent to the next stand of trees, about a hundred feet further east, only a few oak stumps stood.

I gaped. Tears came, completely unbidden, as I stared at what had once been several natural circles of oak trees, interspersed with the occasional elm and juniper.  My mind flashed through all the times that I had run or walked by those trees, the certain play of afternoon or morning sunlight catching the leaves and grass just so as to give them a golden aura. The motes and dragonflies and butterflies and moths that fluttered languidly in the spring and summer sunshine. The bare, skeletal shadows that lined the path from Samhain till Imbolc.

I walked closer, and tears dripped faster.  I tried to sniffle them back a bit, but I was alone on the trail. I just let them go. In one of those true moments of nature-human synchronicity I noticed that a butterfly perched on a branch beside me, on a tree to the left a squirrel sat, oriented towards what was once a great stand of oaks.

I wanted to be mad, but without knowing the reason that the management did it, how could I be? We had to cut down 4 oaks and 1 juniper this spring because of a fungal disease. One, a 30-foot century oak, my Thor tree, was a blow to my heart and the geography of our yard and neighborhood. I’ve found that cutting down trees, for most people, is a sad act. At least, I hope that whoever did it felt a tug of something.

Whether they did or not, I mourned for the trees. I mourned for any of the spirits that made their home there, for the beauty and magic that was lost, for what was released without ceremony or succor.

I finally collected myself enough to begin jogging back home, and I noticed how much beauty surrounded this little nucleus of devastation. There’s Niana and the creek bed, more circles of oaks, reeds, herons and the sounds of kids and adults playing. But that place had always been a connection to me, a tether to something other, something older.

I’ll never stop going there. In the fall  I’ll scatter wildflower seeds, and what is now a razed field will become a meadow. And so it goes.

Here are some pictures of and around the area: